That One Time I Sucked at Sabbath

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The first time I practiced Sabbath, I absolutely hated it.

At the time, I was wearing myself thin by clocking in lots of overtime hours at a church. I was exhausted, but I felt like I couldn't stop, because Sunday came every single week. I was stuck in a never-ending cycle, and the pressure to prove my worth by what I did started to consume me. At this church, I was valued for what I could contribute and how "useful" I was. The drive to impress others and keep up the pace quickly escalated until I found myself having occasional panic attacks, something that I had never experienced before. My breaking point came when I had a panic attack right before I had to go on stage and speak in front of hundreds of people. I couldn't remember what I had planned to say, but I somehow managed to stumble through my presentation.

It was a this low point in my life that I put my foot down and said, "Enough!" 

I put up boundaries on my job description. I cut back on my work hours. I set aside a full day where I vowed I would not do any work.

So you'd think that Sabbath-keeping would be a huge relief after struggling with this frenetic lifestyle. You'd think that I would have let out a deep sigh, done a victory lap around my house, and lived life to its fullest.

I didn't.

On my first Sabbath, I found myself feeling extremely anxious and agitated. I remember sitting on my couch, wondering what the heck I was supposed to do the whole day if I couldn't get any work done. I felt guilty for not being productive. I hated feeling this way, and I resented the Sabbath for making me confront all of my thoughts of inadequacy.

It was then that I realized just how pervasive my utilitarian ideology and identity had become. It was humbling, but even more so, it was scary. I was shocked at just how much I longed for the work that had become a form of bondage. God had set me free, but I found myself trying to return to my former way of life, even if it involved the destructive forces of anxiety and oppression.

I was addicted to Egypt.

That first Sabbath was a struggle, but I stuck with it. Slowly, my mentality began to change. I began to find so much delight in it.

In today's culture, Sabbath-keeping is hard. You might not even like it at first. It might make you feel like you're being lazy and insufficient. You might yearn for the gratification that comes from checking off tasks from a list.

But what you will discover when you start practicing Sabbath is that you are enough. And because you are enough outside of your work, you can choose to stop and rest.

God gave you permission to rest, and when you stop your work and rest in him, he will set you free to live a new lifestyle. He will heal you. He will sustain you. And after a while, you will learn how to find delight in the Sabbath.

For Those Curious About My PhD Topic (Which I Assume is the Entire Internet)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

This fall I begin my Ph.D. in Old Testament at the University of Manchester. The application process was nothing short of intimidating. In order to be accepted, I had to choose my research topic and give rationale for 1) Why it is important academically; 2) Why it contributes to a void in current research; 3) Why my idea is even feasible in the first place.

It felt a lot like writing about something you don't know anything about yet.

I'm a little amazed that I somehow managed to fool them into thinking that I actually know things. But I've heard that this pretty much sums up the Ph.D. process.

For those who are interested, here's what I'll be researching for my dissertation:

The idea began back when I was in college and took a class on the 8th Century prophets. When we studied the book of Hosea, I could not get this particular passage out of my head:

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.

(Hosea 4:1-3)

The very idea that human sin could indirectly affect the well-being of the earth and its creatures fascinated me. When I harm my neighbor, I expect my relationship with him to be broken; I do not, however, expect my relationship with creation to be broken as a result.

All of creation is interrelated. God is a highly relational God, and he created a world that is also highly relational.

The ecology of sin is not a new idea, but it is increasingly becoming a more well known idea. I'm interested in pursuing its eschatological implications. I'm proposing that the 8th Century prophets (Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah) envision a time in the future when God will intervene to reconcile these relationships. God will not abandon his created world, but will continue his creative activity, thus bringing all of creation to his intended purposes.

Thus, my working thesis statement (subject to change, of course) is the following:
This study examines the prophets' view of the interrelatedness of human sin with creation (with particular attention to Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah), in order to understand the cosmic implications of prophetic eschatology (God's judgment and redemption).
What have I gotten myself into?!? I'm not entirely sure yet, but here we gooooo!

Freedom is Harder Than It Looks

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Freedom is harder than it looks.

It doesn't matter what the bondage was: addiction, insecurity, abuse, dysfunction, self-destruction...

Once you break free, you must keep working to remain free. 

You must unlearn the bondage and rewire a new way of thinking and being.

In his autobiography, Booker T. Washington reflects on what occurred after the Emancipation Proclamation. For a few minutes, he writes, there was unbridled celebration. But the celebration quickly dissipated by the time the former slaves returned to their cabins. "The great responsibility of being free, of having charge of themselves, or having to think and plan for themselves and their children, seemed to take possession of them."* Where would they go now? How would they earn a living? Because of this, many of the newly freed slaves decided to stay with their former masters.

Freedom is harder than it looks.

"If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt," the Israelites said once freed. "There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death" (Exodus 16:3).

Freedom requires breaking ties with a former way of living, but in the process, it opens up a new future full of uncertainty. At least when you were in bondage there was some semblance of order, of routine, of familiarity. We forget the abuse and desire to shackle ourselves to captivity once more.

For two years I was on staff at a spiritually abusive church. It was toxic. I knew things were "off," but I didn't realize just how wrong they were until I told some of my pastor friends and my spiritual director. One by one, they all cried with me and told me, "Christina, you are in an abusive situation."

I resigned from the church, was bullied and then fired for telling them why I was leaving (!), but I was free.

Or so I thought.

As horrible as the situation was, I sometimes find myself wondering whether I should have stayed. At least I was doing ministry. At least I was pouring into the next generation for Jesus. At least I was getting payed. At least I had something on my resume. There was abuse, but there were rewards (which is how an abusive relationship works).

You see, as resilient and strong as you may be, your bondage will try just as hard to keep its talons in you. Evil will come knocking on your door and ask you to come back.

Evil rarely goes down easily. Becoming free from it is hard work, but remaining free just might be even harder.

Freedom is a process. It takes a holy tenacity to not just become free, but to keep moving toward freedom. With God's grace, I am learning how to raise my flag of freedom high. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," Paul writes. "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).

So stand firm. Renounce your captivity to sin and abuse, and instead shackle yourself to the freedom Christ gives you.

Break free and stay free.

*Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery. Penguin Books, 1986. Page 21.

Seeing Ourselves in the Villain

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Excerpt from Enough: Celebrating the God of Freedom and Abundance
I want to be the hero.

I read the stories about Moses and Elijah and find myself trying to relate with them. I read about their strong character qualities, and when I put myself into their stories, I see myself as them. Surely, I am the one who boldly stands against the unjust, the one who fights for the vulnerable, the one who relies on God against all odds. I think I see clearly into Scripture.

But I'm near-sighted.

Because sometimes I am the villain. I am the Pharaoh, the Jezebel, the Absolam, the Jonah. I am the one who rebels against God, the one who erects false idols, the one whose pride creates a blockade against God's Spirit. I am the one who thinks I see clearly, but actually has a plank in my eye.

When I read Scripture assuming that I relate most with the heroes, I'm not humbling myself before God and his Word. I'm not allowing the Spirit to speak to me, convict me of my sin, and mature in God's grace.

If I want to see clearly, I have to see myself in the villain as well as in the hero. I have to admit that my vision is impaired and humbly ask God to help me view myself clearly.

The eye is the fastest healing organ in the body.

Hey, Look! I Did a Thing!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

For the past few months I've been partnering with my lovely friend Kayla Allen to write and illustrate a guided devotional study on Sabbath-keeping. We've been keeping it under wraps so far, but now that we are on the final stage in the process, I wanted to give you a sneak peek! Enough: Celebrating the God of Freedom and Abundance, is a 14-day study that walks you through the book of Exodus. Combining Biblical scholarship, spiritual formation, and playful illustrations, this book guides you to pause and play with the God who longs for you to enjoy your days.

Kayla is a gifted spiritual director who is so reflective, gracious, and wise. She is one of those people who makes you want to follow Jesus better because you sensed his presence in her. Seriously. Kayla has been essential in creating activities and introspective questions so that this study is spiritually meaningful. Without her, this would be just an informative book study, not a transformational encounter. You can find out more about Kayla at her website.

We will have this available for purchase in August. If you would like to receive a notification when it's released, sign up on my email list and you'll be the first to know.

Be on the lookout for some excerpts and special content on the blog soon! Writing this study has been so instrumental in our own spiritual lives and we are looking forward to sharing it with you.

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